By Wayne T. Price, FloridaToday.com
December 3, 2018 -- WASHINGTON -- Leonardo DRS Inc. is undergoing a major expansion on the Space Coast, adding 40,000 square feet and hiring at least 100 workers, many of them engineers, over the next year.
The defense contractor's expansion at its Babcock Street location in Melbourne is further evidence of U.S. and global military and aerospace spending fueling the Space Coast economy.
The expansion work at Leonardo DRS, which has three business units in Brevard County, is scheduled for completion next summer. M.H. Williams Construction Group is the project contractor.
The site is a center of excellence for network and electro-optical engineering, including a best-in-class manufacturing facility.
"We have been growing and this is our fourth straight year of growth," said Bill Guyan, vice president and general manager of the company's land electronics business segment. "We filled out the building wer'e in and as we project forward we see that growth continuing."
"We’ve had a long working history with Leonardo DRS, and we congratulate them on their continued success,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “Their growth not only illustrates the development of the aerospace and defense industry, but it reflects the overall strength of our local industrial base."
Leonardo DRS is a multibillion dollar defense company and is a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary of Leonardo S.p.A, an Italian conglomerated with headquarters in Rome.
Locally, the company's roots go back nearly a quarter of a century when a company Diagnostic Retrieval Systems — DRS — purchased the assets of Melbourne-based Opto Mechanik Inc.in a bankruptcy proceeding and the operation settled in Palm Bay.
DRS began acquiring more business lines and needed a bigger space. That's where Fred Sutton of Sutton Properties stepped in. He purchased a building on Babcock Street that once housed J.M. Fields, a one-time discount retailer, similar to Walmart, that was popular in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Sutton was leasing property to DRS in Palm Bay's Commerce Park and as the company grew he wanted to make sure it stayed in Brevard.
"We do that all that the time," Sutton said. "Any company that we lease to we try to keep them here, and do whatever it takes to help them grow. DRS needed to expand. That's when I bought the building on Babcock Street."
Like much of the ebb and flow of the defense industry over the last decade, DRS was facing some financial difficulties when Finmeccanica S.p.A of Italy acquired DRS Technologies.
Today, Leonardo DRS, with about 1,000 employees in Brevard, has three business segments: land electronics, electro-optical infrared systems and airborne and intelligence systems.
Some of its high-tech, cutting-edge work is likely to pit Leonardo DRS against what is soon to be L3 Harris Technologies Inc. (the name of the merged company of New York-based L3 Technologies and Melbourne-based Harris Corp. announced in October.)
There probably will be as much cooperation as there is competition between the two defense contractors, Guyan said.
"In most cases we won't be competing directly and, in fact, there will be some instances where we have worked together with Harris or L3," Guyan said. "There is some overlap and competition in the night vision systems area but there are some areas within that segment where we will cooperate.
"We call it 'coopetition,' " Guyan said.